Baladi Music in Egypt

Baladi Music in Egypt

Baladi means “of the country”, and it is uniquely Egyptian. It is the urban form derived from folk tradition. Baladi music and dance developed together, when country people migrated to the cities in the early years of the twentieth century. The arts flourished, and folk tunes, songs and rhythms took on new colour, new shapes and sophistication.

During the nineteen and early twentieth century in Egypt, a plethora of Western musical forms and instruments were introduced e.g. popular instruments like the accordion, saxophone, clarinet and the trumpet were integrated by urban folk musicians to give Baladi music a new sound. The folk musicians picked up these instruments and played their old folk music on these instruments whilst retaining the traditional classical Egyptian percussion instruments – Darabuka, Riqq and Duff.

The Urban ’Ashrah Baladi
From the beginning of the twentieth century to around the 1920s and 1930s Egyptian music and art underwent a great transformation which reflected the drive for modernization and Westernization which began with Egypt’s khedives from Mohammad Ali (1804-1848) to Isam’il (1863-1879) and continued during the British occupation up to the 1920s. These Westernized influences have persisted until today. During the period from the late 1800s to the beginning of the1900s, Egypt witnessed a prolific introduction of western musical forms and instruments, including Italian opera, jazz, military brass bands, Latin forms such as the rumba and samba, and western classical musical theory, which was now taught in Cairo’s music conservatoires. During all this change, no formal school was given to Baladi music, nor was it ever recognized by the establishment. Baladi musical traditions continued to rely on the oral tradition of the entertainer families of Mohammad Ali Street, and its platforms for training were the coffee houses, weddings and the Moulid. Because of this separation, Baladi music progressed at its own pace, keeping close to its traditional roots, and innovation grew within the form without compromising its true Baladi character. For example, the instruments of jazz, such as the saxophone, the clarinet and the trumpet, were integrated by the musicians to give a new sound in Baladi, never to create or borrow a new structure or idiom.



Recommended Listening

Guy Schalom and Sheik Taha – “Baladi Blues – Egyptian Street Music”. order here

Egyptian Baladi Live – The Layali El Sharq Baladi Band. order here

Baladi Plus – Hossam Ramzy – order here

Recommended Watching

Baladi DVD – Ranya Renee – order here

Mazaj Band performing Baladi Carmen composed by Maren Lueg and Chas Whitaker at the Green Park Brasserie at the Bath Fringe Festival 2009, Greeen Park Station, Bath Spa, UK

Baladi music in Egypt
Maren Lueg 2008

In Arabic, “Baladi” means “folk”. The term Baladi is used to describe the particular identity of working class people who have migrated to the towns from rural villages and farming communities.
Egyptian musicians also use Baladi as a synonym for “Ashra Baladi”, which is a structured improvisation using Western, and traditional Egyptian, instruments.

Egyptian Folk music took on new colour, shapes and sophistication at the turn of the 20th Century, during British rule, when country people migrated to the cities to find security in employment, and a new prosperity.
During the period from the late 1800s to the early 1900s in Egypt, a plethora of Western musical forms and instruments was introduced, for example, popular instruments like the accordion, the saxophone, the clarinet and the trumpet were integrated by urban folk musicians to give Baladi music a new sound.
What was once simple folk music for weddings and celebrations in rural communities became a complex musical idiom in the coffee houses of Cairo and Alexandria.
Western culture has had on the improvisation technique and expression in Egyptian folk music was the introduction of Western instruments that are tuned to the Western piano pitch. This has reduced the use of micro-tones. Even so, some Egyptian musicians tried to build quarter-tones into their accordions, and learned how to play quarter-tones on their saxophones and trumpets. The tuning of the more subtle micro-tones had got lost to make space for a new westernised sound within the Afrah Baladi improvisation.
The combination of the migration of country people to the cities at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, during British rule, and the introduction to Western instruments and scales laid the foundation of the development of a new form of Baladi music.
Some of the Ashra Baladi musicians of Cairo and Alexandria draw their inspiration not only from Western, but also from Latin, music, but the essence of their improvisation kept the feeling and emotional expression of the traditional Egyptian folk music and the rapture of ancient folk tunes alive.

more info is going to follow soon.